The League

Michael Oriard

Michael Oriard

An English professor at Oregon State University and the author of several books on football, including Brand NFL Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport and The End of Autumn Reflections on My Life in Football

Better than BCS


So, Seattle is in the playoffs with a 7-9 record and may be the least deserving team in NFL history. At 10-6, two NFC teams, New York and Tampa Bay, have records as good as four of the teams that qualified (Philadelphia, Green Bay, Indianapolis, and Kansas City), three of which were divisional champions.

I'm afraid that I cannot get too worked up about this. Seattle won its division. Its division was weak, but so what? Compared to how the colleges do it -- with polls and computer ratings, some conferences in and other conferences out -- the NFL system must seem positively enlightened to even the most disgruntled Giants or Buccaneers fan. The tie-breakers that decide between teams with the same records are clear and objective. And for the teams, making or not making the NFL playoffs has nothing like the financial impact that making or not making a BCS bowl has on the college game.

If the issue is, who's deserving, then the flaw in the NFL's playoff system is not the possibility of weak divisions but the inclusion of wildcards. If you're not good enough to win your own division, why should you have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl as supposedly the year's best team? Wildcards are not about rewarding the worthy. The NFL's purpose with wildcards is to keep alive the hopes, and the viewing and spending interest, of fans in more cities, and to generate a few more millions of dollars from an additional round of televised games. Is the third-place team in the NFC South, or even the second-place team in the NFC East, really more "deserving" than the first-place team in the NFC West with a worse record?

For that matter, if the goal is to match the most deserving teams for the NFL championship, there should be just the two conferences, with no divisions, as was the case in the old NFL before the merger with the American Football League. By the twelfth or thirteenth week, three-fourths of the teams would be competing only for their slot in the upcoming college draft.

Seeding teams on their records, irrespective of divisional standing, may make sense. A divisional champion may deserve a playoff spot but not a home game against a team with a better record. With or without a change to the seeding, a lousy divisional champion creates the possibility of a first-round mismatch, but a playoff system pitting the champions from all conferences against each other is precisely what college football fans have been demanding for years.

By Michael Oriard  |  January 5, 2011; 7:49 AM ET  | Category:  NFC , Playoffs , Seattle Seahawks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I wholeheartedly agree. The BCS and its ranking system need to be replaced by a playoff system.

Posted by: stratog | January 5, 2011 8:38 AM

So it doesn't matter that 4 of their 7 wins are from within their division? And that they lost to the 2 teams out of the playoffs? Does the regular season mean anything? How much more can we make the regular season more like an extended pre-season?

Posted by: | January 10, 2011 11:12 AM

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